Nature Cure (2018)

To finalise this diary, here is the final imagery of the second, limewood piece, which was entitled Nature Cure (2018) with a nod to the book by Richard Mabey – one of my Environment Series sitters – documenting how the natural world gradually brought the writer out of a low period in his life. I know that this sculpture has touched some of The Cartshed’s users in various ways and it will always be a special piece for me.

You may be interested to follow the seven tonne 2019 sculpture’s development in Wealden Sussex here.


The pear block is out today as the weather gets colder but brighter. It is good for it to finish itself rather than me impose an end upon it, but the forms are gradually resolving. The figure will become more thin and tree like – the visual balance is still not quite right.


It is over a week since I left Herefordshire, drained from the intensive process of making but, conversely, invigorated. After the diversion of carving and delivering a lettered slate plaque, I unwrapped the pear wood block to scrutinise the forms that have emerged. The limewood, Whole, had real ownership of the Cart Shed participants who gave it a steer. The finishing stages of the pear will be a more lonely process.

I had just read the latest blog post by Keith Foskett, whose imagery had steered the beginning of the block and whose latest trip report added a prescient nudge for me.

Coming home, I’d also been itching to re-read Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure, his 2005 autobiographical journal of overcoming depression through a love of nature and a re-awakening of the imagination. He had at one point found himself in the same hospital in Northampton as the poet John Clare who had written so powerfully about nature and the loss of rural ways nearly 200 years earlier.

The ‘other’ side of the pear has the beginnings of a single figure and interlocking trees, yet the mass available for the emergent female figure is woefully deficient. With head at the top of the block and feet at the base, ‘she’ becomes more willowy and tree-like to cope with the lack of carving material in crucial areas. However, Michelangelo managed to resolve the compromised Duccio block which was heavily worked into by a previous sculptor then (twice) abandoned, rendering it useless for a conventional figure.

And yet, with persistence, his David resulted.

Day 9: Sunday 8th

The last day of work amidst a busy Out of Nature exhibition and then followed on Monday by a teaching day with Almeley and Monmouth schools who were experiencing the qualities of form, which enable sculptures to be visually strong without the need for concept.

This blog will continue at a slower pace, but in the meantime, do visit Newport House before the end of the exhibition to see the completed limewood work which has emerged at the Gardener’s Cottage porch in the Walled Garden over the first half of the exhibition. Newport House has been a very special community to be part of for a short, concentrated period. You can experience it – and meet the people who make it all possible – through viewing all the sculptures across the gardens, buying plants in the walled garden and relaxing in the cafe for a break during your visit. Pop in to find out more about The Cart Shed’s work in their demonstration area near the food tent.



Day 8: Sat 7th

The Cart Shed face of the lime plank is starting to resolve. A central figure  – and the attitude of the block/board – has been influenced by a split in the wood from the base upwards, giving division into what have become legs.

The single figure implies linkage to the imagery on the obverse, another single figure.

The other supporting heads are equally faceless, hopefully implying community/togetherness but without having to veer further towards the representational – the composition is already  complex with fire, Cart Shed-distinctive tools, a (small) steaming cup and split log.

An interesting comment arose today.  Are the figures gender neutral or do they veer towards the male? And does this matter?

The sculptor is, of course, male, and art is often semi-autobiographical; we draw on what we know in intuitive working. My questions tomorrow morning might be:

Will a softening of the shoulder line weaken the composition in favour of equality?

Are the simple heads and strong necks merely indicative of self-confidence and self-esteem? (something I’ve been conscious to try to achieve through upright stance and posture after an earlier conversation with a former occupational therapist on one of my West Dean teaching days).

Does considering all the above compromise the very imagery that has arisen in the first place?

My first action regardless will be to create a division between the central head and its neck – recessing the neck back into the relief – to follow the idiom applied with other heads.

But what are your thoughts? Art always stimulates discussion and whilst it should never be committee-led, it is an interesting point raised for something which could have value in spreading a message further and wider.

Day 7: Friday 6th

Sunrise. In the spirit of discovery, I walked up to the big house for the 8am yoga session – not something I had experienced before. I thought it might rejuvenate my aching arms from yesterday when in fact I found that several of the routines were an agonising equivalent of my carving. But it was a contemplative hour, if somewhat hampered by my inadequacy to be grounded, through inflexible muscle groups. I have moved from unconscious to conscious incompetence, which is a start. Inner poise is something that sculptures also need to have (and often do not).

After a low day resolving forms yesterday, I got on with the necessary removal from the block  and started to feel that the limewood work is coming together. The Cart Shed award ceremony approached. Lady Darnley, the Queen’s representative in Herefordshire, was to present them the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services, the organisational equivalent of the CBE.

Beforehand, a few people connected with the Cart Shed passed through the walled garden and I quizzed one on my issue with one side of the sculpture. The panel presently has a figure at the base in low relief, its surface being the sawn marks of the original board. At the top, a reaching arm – an addition of hope into otherwise sad imagery – is in three dimensions. It is a contrast of idiom or style, and the composition could thus be seen as weak.
The volunteer, without so much as a pause, echoed that two-dimensionality was exactly what one experienced in low moments, if one felt any dimension at all.

And that was all that was needed.

The other block? As the lime has started to resolve, the pear has made me realise it was necessary for development of the ‘pit’ imagery, but that it is developing a broader focus than The Cart Shed, is in a material foreign to Herefordshire, and has an initial impetus from elsewhere. Its despair imagery (below) may be too intense and with no inter-connecting link between that and the obverse.  Adding an element might over complicate and perhaps destroy the work.

They are parting company gradually, but the pear will always be connected.

Day 6: Thurs 5th

Done too much mallet work today as well as lots of hand work with the gouge. Added some further prompts to tools and food, the latter of which another Cart Shed walk group saw as important to the community focus.

Very tired.

Day 5: Weds 4th

Dull start. Realised late in day yesterday that whilst I had a believable figure and a believable arm and hand in the pear block, they didn’t visually work as one. No amount of reduction in size of the latter (left) would affect an improvement, so it was removed in entirety and I chiselled down into the substrate on either side of the area where a revised lower arm would rise.
It seems better, and at a better angle.
The Wednesday group passed by on their morning walk and changes from the day  before – the need to involve more figures to imply community and support – attracted agreement.  The anxious/despair figure also had a visible effect on some.  Affirming that a static carved object made of wood can have this ability.
I walked up to the camp at lunchtime feeling short of time, but was glad I went as several more conversations ensued that would be useful for the work ahead. Two visitors latterly came to the porch as they left camp for the day, each giving intuitive comment about the anxious figure that I was contemplating in the other block. Feeling small when lost in the vast expanse of life was especially useful; proportion is something to think about in the very tall thin nature of the limewood, now imagery has decided to force it that way.
The other conversation with a Forces veteran touched on some common imagery in Forces communities experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. The pit or hole metaphor I’d discussed with Keith Foskett was re-occurring, with an extra twist.
I learned that down in the pit, people are isolated and perhaps, too, there is a subconscious feeling of weakness if one asks for help. It’s difficult to get out, but another veteran jumping down into the pit can help as they have been there before and they know what to do.
That jumping down seems to be just the sort of action that the Cart Shed community is fulfilling too, perhaps – or at least extending a hand to help the climb back up.
The other interesting conversation was about what actions might come about from triggers and flashbacks experienced by forces veterans – lying face down, or hugging the knees in a corner. The latter for the figure might be viewed as akin to the safe, self-hugging foetal position which I’d been considering for one side of the lime wood block – self-companionship when there is no one there.
Note that the only reason I must consider this imagery in one part of the sculpture is because otherwise the work will not do justice to the level of diligence and seriousness apparent in the work of The Cart Shed. But it also puts the onus onto equally strong imagery being present showing the positive results.
There are various web postings of the (anonymous) tale of the soldier in the hole, including here.

Day 4: Tuesday 3rd

A sunrise for the first time in days. And a sign of a great morning, as I trekked up the track to The Cart Shed encampment in the woods.

I had a chat with someone who has been consistently making sculptural work in the Cart Shed woodlands. His little people’s houses started off with fairy doors, of which one was some ten metres from where I was sitting.

He mentioned his hat of levitation which co-incidentally I had seen and remembered on the Cart Shed stand at the exhibition.He recalled the conversations around its conception – the hat of levitation propeller starts spinning and allows one to ascend into the tree canopy to lose yourself for a while. Despite being “a bit of fun” just as with the fairy doors, both works transcend the mundanity of life, taking the maker – and viewer – into special places for a while – which is exactly what The Cart Shed does too. That the hat of levitation also alludes to ‘being low’ by suggesting the very act of rising is another layer – a conceptual solution to ‘despair’ without so much as a mallet chip. Thus, not only is this a sculptural construction, but it provides a parallel solution to the brief for a work responding to The Cart Shed’s purpose.

I’d hoped that the Tuesday group walk would pass by the Walled Garden and have a look at progress with my own carving. I needed affirmation that some of the imagery was progressing in the right way – or rather, that others would see the things I was feeling might work. Out of a group discussion with the two blocks, several had a real feel for the forms, giving me confidence as well as some more insight into times when one feels sad, lonely or trapped in one’s metaphorical cave.

Later, another insight emerged – the in-camp companionship that the Cart Shed community gives. Supportive and trusting. That complicates the sculpture – more figurative elements to be included. But it feels something which cannot not be referenced in the composition.

With good strong light coming down through the trees, I also noticed how the Cart Shed camp shows that beauty comes out of work itself.

Day 3: Monday 2nd

Walked up to The Cart Shed’s camp early, looking for simple motifs or visual detail which characterise their activities and might identify the locally distinctive.

Handmade mallets, the A frame structure of camp roofs and log stands. The turning equipment is more visually complex… potentially taking any “art” into interpretation.

Any art is going to have strength if it can get beyond the representational and convey universal qualities. For that to occur, this sculpture needs to work ‘for’ The Cart Shed but also to offer something that others seeking solace in the natural environment might recognise.
Didn’t travel beyond the cottage porch work area all day. The void in the pear block is growing. Baked bread twice in the frequent distraction from carving.

Here are the sculptor’s talismans against further hand damage; turmeric (curcumin), very high Scoville chillis (capsaicin and Vitamin C) and a weightlifter’s mitt.

Tomorrow I meet up early with The Cart Shed session in the woods.